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ATF special agent cleared in Virgin Islands shooting death

By Jim Barnett, CNN
updated 7:10 PM EDT, Thu September 13, 2012
ATF Special Agent William G. Clark was cleared of charges Thursday.
ATF Special Agent William G. Clark was cleared of charges Thursday.
  • The charge against Special Agent William G. Clark enraged many federal law officers
  • He had intervened in a domestic argument in 2008
  • A federal investigation cleared him, but Virgin Islands police charged him with murder

(CNN) -- A Virgin Islands jury has found a veteran Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent not guilty of using excessive force when he intervened and fatally shot a man during a domestic argument in 2008.

ATF Special Agent William G. Clark was cleared of charges Thursday in a case that enraged many federal law enforcement officers who said Clark was heroically coming to the defense of a battered woman.

"ATF has been steadfast in its support of Special Agent Clark and wholeheartedly agrees with the jury's verdict," said Thomas Brandon, ATF deputy director, in a written statement.

ATF officials said Clark was confronted by Marcus Sukow on September 7, 2008, and "took immediate action to defend himself and others by discharging his firearm to stop the attack."

The incident occurred outside a St. Thomas condominium where all of the main participants were neighbors.

While the broad outline of the shooting is undisputed, two government investigations came to starkly different conclusions.

A federal government multiple-agency investigation of the incident unanimously concluded the shooting was justified. The ATF even returned Clark's gun and badge and put him back to work.

But a Virgin Islands Police Department investigation prompted prosecutors to charge Clark with second degree murder. Local prosecutors evidently were heavily influenced by two points: First, the dead man was armed only with a flashlight; second, Clark shot him five times.

According to a police affidavit, Clark was leaving his condo when he encountered Sukow and his girlfriend. They had been drinking and were having a "disagreement."

Federal authorities were so incensed by the Virgin Island's prosecution of Clark -- and so concerned other federal agents could similarly be prosecuted -- that they removed all ATF agents from the Virgin Islands in 2008, a policy that continues today, the agency said.

The U.S. Virgin Islands is an unincorporated territory of the United States.

2010: Federal agents nationwide eye ATF agent murder trial

CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.

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